Tester grills ‘Big Three’ auto execs over request for government money

CEOs tell Tester they won’t make second request for cash next year

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Senator Jon Tester is again turning up the heat on the CEOs of the nation's "Big Three" automakers as they ask for billions of dollars from Congress to keep their companies afloat.

Tester grilled the top three executives of Ford, General Motors and Chrysler during a marathon Senate Banking Committee hearing today on Capitol Hill.  Today's Q-and-A was a follow-up to a hearing two weeks ago, when the CEOs first asked for $25 billion in taxpayer money to keep the three companies from going bankrupt.

During the first hearing, lawmakers asked CEOs to come back to Congress with detailed financial plans.  Those plans, released this week, call for as much as $38 billion in money from the government.

Tester has not made a decision about how he'll vote because he is still waiting for a legislative proposal.

But today, Tester had a chance to ask some key questions in order to make his decision.  He questioned the automakers' plans for handling closures of auto dealerships in rural America, and whether proposed money would work for the long term.

Under pressure from Tester, all three CEOs said they would not ask for additional money next year, as long as the economy does not get significantly worse.

Tester also asked General Motors CEO Richard Wagoner about whether GM plans to expand manufacturing facilities in other countries.

"I don't want to give American taxpayer dollars to somebody who's going to invest it in some other country than this country," Tester said.  "That's been a problem."

Wagoner told Tester that GM will not use any government funds to expand its facilities in other countries.

During today's hearing, Tester also gave credit to the CEOs, saying they have been put under "far more scrutiny for far less money" than the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street requested by the Bush Administration and approved by Congress several months ago.  Tester was one of 24 Senators who voted against the bailout.

Earlier this week, all three CEOs agreed to Tester's request to accept a salary of $1 per year until their companies become profitable, as former Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca did when the government rescued his company in 1979.